DVD Review: “Pearl Jam Twenty”

Photobucket Pearl Jam Twenty is the 2011 documentary film on a Seattle band that, for some people, came out of/from nowhere, figuratively and literally. Directed by Cameron Crowe. the movie is an in-depth look at Pearl Jam’s roots, along with the roots of each member, plus what they had to get through in order to get from way over there to becoming the Seattle band naysayers didn’t think would last more than two years. Through a mix of newly shot interviews and archival footage, one is able to watch the growth of the band, their music, along with how each member managed to stick together despite initial mental obstacles. In terms of rock documentaries, this is one of the best because the band allowed complete access to their lives. Die hard fans will love this, as it offers a chance to see not only early nightclub shows when they were known as Mookie Blaylock, but also some of the promotional duties they had to do during the first album, all of which lead to what guitarist Stone Gossard calls “the birth of no”: no videos, no interviews, no Ticketmaster. It seemed so revolutionary and out of the norm, and years later, we have people like comedian Louis C.K. who is able to sell concert tickets directly to fans and have it be celebrated rather than criticized. There are so many highlights to this, but I liked it when Eddie Vedder said that the innocence of Seattle did not die when Kurt Cobain killed himself, but when Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood died after being taken off of life support following a heroin overdose. Then years later, have Vedder and the rest of the band sing a Mother Love Bone song. There are a number of touching moments here, but it has to be watched to be truly felt. It feels like a concert film even though it’s not. I have seen many music documentary films, but along with the Fishbone doc Everyday Sunshine, this is one of the best docs I’ve seen in a long time. While the film does touch on the hype and mystique, you also hear them talk about why they shunned it, and how they managed to beat the odds after taken the route most bands would never do, especially not today.

  • Now, my sidebar story. I remember when Mookie Blaylock was getting a lot of attention in the Seattle bi-weekly magazine, The Rocket. It was a magazine that pretty much covered anyone and everyone, and they championed some of the best bands in their existence. At the time, Europe and Japan were enjoying the superhype of the Seattle music scene. Alternative fans in the U.S. loved it, and it was far from being pop. People talked about how Soundgarden were on A&M, and people were wondering who would be the next to get a major label offering. Everyone was hoping for Mudhoney. But these Mookie Blaylock guys… it seemed like every issue had a status report on shows, demos, and how they might be getting a buzz. They then talked about the name change. Soon, there was a bit of mystery about a secret project from Nirvana, and something was very much in the air. I lived 200 miles away from Seattle, but if you were in touch with their music scene, you wanted to show support. I, on the other hand, felt like this Pearl Jam stuff was crap, and I hadn’t heard a note of their music. I was a long time Green River fan, ordered their “Together We’ll Never” green vinyl 7″ after reading a review from Bruce Pavitt in his Sub Pop column in The Rocket. It arrived with a letter from vocalist Mark Arm, who was nice enough to introduce me to a new band. He threw in a free record by some band called Melvins. I ended up enjoying Melvins much more than Green River, but I loved how sarcastic Green River were in their approach. When they split up, there was news on what the members would do next. The bassist from Melvins decided to join up with some members from Green River, ended up creating Mudhoney. Two other members of Green River would create Mother Love Bone. I knew Mother Love Bone received a lot of praise due to vocalist Andrew Wood. Loved when Mother Love Bone got signed to a Polygram deal. Then Wood died. I went to the New Music Seminar in 1990, and as I walked around in New York City, there were loads of posters of the forthcoming Mother Love Bone debut. It was meant to be a promotional push not only for them, but of Seattle. I wanted that to be their moment, but it didn’t happen, so the posters were just there and MTV played “Stardog Champion” as much as they could.

    This is why I hated Pearl Jam. I honestly felt that Eddie Vedder was nothing more than a random surfer stoner from San Diego who was trying to cash in on the Seattle thing, and they just snapped him up for attention. Keep in mind that I was in punk rock mode, and being overly protective for a music scene 200 miles away. I didn’t care too much about Vedder’s singing, his songs, I didn’t want to listen to it. They didn’t sound like what “grunge” sounded like, but then again, compared to everyone else, neither did Nirvana. Hell, every band sounded completely different one another. It would be too easy to say “Melvins is the sound of grunge”, but they loved Flipper as much as they loved Black Sabbath. Their influences were as diverse as everyone else. I thought Pearl Jam sucked, but they were always on MTV so they were hard to miss. I had to admit, even though they sucked, I found the sounds oddly catchy. I didn’t want to admit it. “Jeremy” got all the hype, “Alive” was their grand opening song, but I liked “Evenflo”, especially the video since it was shot at the Moore Theater, one of my favorite concert venues. To me, Vedder came off like a pompous poseur and that’s because I did not understand what he was about. He didn’t seem like the sarcastic fuckers of Seattle, and that’s because he wasn’t from Seattle. I’d read his interviews and thought “wow, who in the fuck is this guy?” I always heard the “hits” on the radio, but being in Washington State, the few rock stations in my area also played the album cuts. I happened to have a liking to the one “hit” that didn’t have a video: “Black”.

    After the buzz from the “Jeremy” video died down and they were getting ready to put together album number two, I still didn’t like them, but then they started doing things that I did like. I liked the fact that they chose to not too any more music videos, at a time when videos were meant to be “all or nothing” for artists. I liked that they would battle Ticketmaster when most major label/mainstream artists never had the balls to do the same. At a time when the compact disc was finally the preferred format of choice, I liked that they were pro-vinyl, often releasing albums two weeks before the CD release. (Today, if an album has a vinyl counterpart, it is usually released two weeks after the digital and CD releases are out). They also had a fan club where they would release Christmas records, just like The Beatles did. As serious and as “poseur” as I felt they came off as, there was a sense of something else that perhaps I had always wanted in a band. There was humor, there was fun, and there was a true love for music. What convinced me was when they started collaborating with Neil Young. I’ve been a Young fan since a kid, had an uncle who adored After The Gold Rush, which remains my all time favorite NY LP. It sounded great, and I realized wow, have I been wrong in assuming this band was crap? It sounds good to me.

    The weird thing about is that, Epic Records would send me promos of their albums and I didn’t bother listening to them. That hate was strong. Yet I found myself traveling 45 miles to the only record store in the area (Hot Poop in Walla Walla, Washington) to buy a vinyl pressing of Yield. The early reviews seemed good, and I thought “okay, this is album number five. I need to put my unrealstic hatred away. Maybe this album will change me.” It did.

    In between this hate, I became a huge fan of Gossard’s other band, Brad. I played the Shame album religiously and felt that this was the sound of Seattle, and it still is.

    I then realized wait: I’m from Hawai’i, where surfing originated. I was born in California, and there’s still a small bit of that boho California vibe in me. Why should I feel hatred for a guy who loves the ocean? I’m that guy who is always writing about how the lure of the ocean is strong and a beach tends to bring to me a bit of inner peace, even if just by thinking about it.

    I’ve been a Pearl Jam fan longer than the seven years I chose to hate them. It was more Vedder-hate than Pearl Jam, and as I began listening to his songs with the band and his solo work, I felt much of what he was going through. He can pick up an ‘ukulele and make it heartfelt. I could relate to that. No more hate.

    There is little chance they will read this but: to Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Eddie Vedder, and Mike McCready: I apologize for being ignorant to your music from 1991-1998. Call it Pacific Northwest pride, call it support for the Seattle music scene from a distance, call it dumb. It will not happen again.

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  • DUST IT OFF: Mudhoney’s “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge”… 20 years later

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    Two months after the release of Mudhoney‘s Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, the world would be aurally terrorized by the sound of Seattle, and looking back, I think people were surprised by not only the sound, but that something from Seattle could sound and feel so good. But I have to backtrack a bit.

    When I moved to Washington State in 1984, the first thing I wanted to know was “where’s the music at?” My family ended up living 200 miles away from Seattle, where there was nothing for a rock’n’roll kid like me. I was thirsting for music and a music scene, I grew up with uncles who loved Jimi Hendrix, a guitarist uncle who had Queensryche‘s first EP on cassette, and I was a fan of Heart. I figured that by being in a new locale, I wanted to know more. On my first true visit to Seattle, I went to Tower Records and discovered a publication called The Rocket, whom I would end up contributing to eight years later. It was filled with musicians looking for other musicians to join bands, loads of ads for everything from concerts to hot tubs with women with new wave hair and clothing. I was 13 or 14, and I wanted that, but always had to appreciate from afar.

    In high school, my dream of becoming a radio DJ came true when I joined the Radio/TV production class at a vocational school. The format of the station was hard rock and heavy metal, not a problem for me. Many of my classmates, however, were into punk, a style of music I was only aware of through The Clash and Sex Pistols, which barely skimmed the surface. I lived in a town that was (at the time) straight laced, while the punk kids lived elsewhere. If I wanted to see the punks, I had to go to the town across the bridge, and in a typical high school mentality, it seemed like every one stayed amongst themselves. The radio/TV class was a say to know that I could talk and hang out with the punks, the nerds, the dorks, the jocks, and everyone else: very much to how I grew up in Hawai’i where everyone associated with everyone. This radio/TV class was the only thing that saved my high school experience from being a complete fuck-up, and I am forever thankful to everyone who was in my class and at that vocational center.

    One of the reasons it saved me was reading The Rocket and ordering a record that was reviewed in a column called Sub Pop, written by Bruce Pavitt. I received my green vinyl 7″ I bought for two whole dollars with a handwritten note from singer Mark Arm. He included a free 7″ EP by a band he thought I’d like, called Melvins. To be honest, I ended up liking Melvins a lot more than Green River, even though I am a huge Green River fan. Nonetheless, this was the first time I became exposed to what was going on in Seattle in 1986, and I paid attention from that point on. I remember reading news about the collapse of Green River, and that a band called Mudhoney were making the rounds. Bassist Matt Lukin had left Melvins, something I was upset about, and I was more upset that Melvins moved down to Cali. Upset seems foolish, considering I had never met the band nor knew any of them, but it was like “wow, they have to move to Cali?” Then again, I wasn’t aware of any bands from Montesano, Washington who made it big, and I remain a Melvins fan to this day. As for Mudhoney, I first heard their music when I started buying records from Sub Pop, and liked the raw, snarky energy they had. It was distorted, loud, but most of all fun. “Touch Me I’m Sick”, “Sweet Young Thing (Ain’t Sweet No More)”, and “You Got It (Keep it Outta My Face)” became personal classics, but I think the first Mudhoney record I ever bought was their 1988 EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff. C’mon, a record named after a guitar pedal? I may not be a guitarist, but I understood its significance: they were highlighting what they felt was their sound, with a cool cover photo from Charles Peterson that showed movement, showed action, showed the electricity their music might have, and did.

    The band followed it up a year later with their self-titled debut album, initial copies of which opened from the front with two panels that made it look like doors. The music was awesome, songs like “This Gift”, “Flat Out Fucked”, “Here Comes Sickness”, and “Dead Love” felt, to my 19 year old mind, grown up. I was an adult, and this sounded perfect to me. I didn’t think “ooh, collegiate, this must mean it’s music since I am of college age.” Granted I didn’t go to college (I had plans on going to the Art Institute of Seattle but regretablly did not, otherwise I might be a recording engineer/music producer with incredible credentials), but in my mind the music felt right, I loved what they were playing and how they did it, and Mudhoney became one of my favorite bands of the late 80’s/early 90’s.

    At the same time, Seattle were gaining a bit of mainstream attention. Soundgarden were signed by A&M, which made the Seattle scene wonder who might be next. When Arm and Steve Turner moved from Green River to form Mudhoney, two other members of Green River would form a band called Mother Love Bone, featuring Malfunkshun vocalist Andrew “L’Andrew” Wood. They were signed to a Polydor subsidiary, and naturally all eyes looked to Mudhoney for being the next it band. England and the rest of Europe were celebrating this raw and raunchy rock’n’roll from Seattle long before the mainstream press in the U.S. paid attention or cared, so it was common for Seattle bands to tour the UK and dominate the press and airwaves. Then again, Sub Pop did have a way of marketing themselves higher (and better) than most, but regardless of how it was done, their techniques worked. Seattle was becoming what Athens, Georgia was in the early 80’s: a place to watch for in terms of college rock/underground/alternative music. People did love Nirvana, but Mudhoney had almost become unofficial ambassadors of the grunge rock movement, they were seen as leaders of the new drunken school. You also had Tad (from Boise, Idaho) on one end too, so you ended up seeing, hearing, and feeling a mess of bands who loved rock, punk, psych, and everything else to make the music bleed. Seattle always has had a healthy hard rock/heavy metal scene too, but this seemed more daring compared to the overwhelming cluster of hair metal bands who were more into their spandex than trying to play music that felt good to them. For me, Mudhoney were the it band of Seattle and I wanted more.

    In June of 1991, Sub Pop mailed me an advance tape of the band’s second album, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. I was doing my own fanzine for a year called Intensity, and I was given a chance to hear this album earlier than the rest of the world, and then I was to review it, which I did. The album started out in the same loud and raw manner that their earlier music did. As a fan I loved it. As a journalist I was thinking “okay, let me see if they’ve changed, developed into something, are they trying to do something that doesn’t sound like what they did before?” Then one song after the other, it was as if the group knew of their capabilities, but wanted to try new things, and I welcomed them. “Thorn” was incredible, “Into The Drink” was silly, and then came the last song on Side 1, “Broken Hands”. It seemed more melodic, more technical, more “progressive” than what they did before, and it was a longer song, running about 6 minutes. I was sold: this was going to be my album of the year. Forget the rest of 1991, I wanted to tattoo my ass with the letter W so when I bent over and people behind me were looking, they would say “WOW”, in honor of Muhdoney.

    A week or two after I received my advanced copy of the album, I heard word that Mudhoney would be playing in town. What? FUCKING MUHDONEY, PLAYING HERE? NO FUCKING WAY? I had become a part of my local music scene for about a year, interviewing and mingling with musicians who became friends, or friends who happened to be in bands. I met up with people whom had been in the scene for awhile, and welcomed me with open arms. I grew up a heavy metal kid, but learned that amongst some in the metal community, it was more about putting on an act, a facade, than anything else. It was very “poseur” and I was never someone who completey subscribed to the stereotypes of what metal meant. Then again, I had long hair that would eventually extend down to the crack of my ass and had many Anthrax T-shirts. I think what I looked for was a sense of commonality, which I did not find locally. Once I became a part of the punk scene, it was not about a look, but simply being able to be yourself. I loved that, and was able to find the kind of friendships that did not exist for me in high school. Yes it was about the music, but it was a place to call home, a true bridge towards adulthood and responsibility, and Mudhoney was part of my soundtrack. To know that Mudhoney were to play in town was massive, and I knew I had to be there. What made things worse at the time was I knew my family were going to take a family trip back home to Honolulu. Dates were set, and I thought “nooooo, I’m not going to miss Mudhoney for this.” Well, I would’ve gone back home regardless but I found out the trip was a week before Mudhoney was to arrive, so it was set.

    July 27, 1991. Mudhoney found themselves performing at the Kennewick V.F.W. Hall in Kennewick, Washington, a town with a then-population of about 32,000. It’s very much a country town with an agriculture industry everywhere. I had been to the V.F.W. Hall many times before for shows, so the idea of Mudhoney playing there was odd. Mudhoney were playing fairly large clubs and venues in Europe, they were doing the same in Seattle and on both coasts. Mudhoney, in a V.F.W. Hall? The hall had a capacity of a mere 72, and I know this because I’ve seen the capacity sign many times before. Even though this is a small town, Mudhoney will fill this place up easily, right? Not a problem.

    Outside, I saw some of the members of Mudhoney walking around, drinking, getting themselves ready. These were guys I had seen in magazines, on album covers and picture sleeves, and maybe in an episode of Bombshelter Videos, these were the guys from Seattle who were going to play in my hokey ass, small podunk town. I watched all of the local bands that opened up for them, but then something happened. I had heard that the headlining band did not want to play last. How in the hell are you the top band, but don’t want to play last? Apparently vocalist Arm had some issues about performing in the Tri-Cities, according to those who remember that night:

    TERRY BRUCE: The lead singer refused to perform until there was Aloe Vera toilet paper in the mens room. What a tool! I remember that he relented when (World Funeral vocalist) Mike Larson. offered to “discuss” it with him in the parking lot.
    BRANDON PITTS: DNC, if I remember correctly, went on last because Mark Arm was being a prima donna and had a bed time. He had a bad attitude about Tri-Cities. Thought he was in Van Halen. If they don’t sell Aloe tp, then the town is too small for Mudhoney.

    Whether Arm received rolls of aloe vera toilet paper, I’ll never knew, but I remember when the lights went down, and the very packed V.F.W. Hall cheered. Magic was going to happen. At this point, I ended up on the corner of stage left where the band had piled up their bags, cases, and equipment. I remained there for their first set and sure, in my mind I’m thinking “I’m on stage with fucking Mudhoney” but I wanted to document this for my fanzine, and of course myself. I did, and when the first chord happened, it was mayhem for the next 90 minutes and I loved it.

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    Keep in mind that I was most likely the only person in the room, outside of Mudhoney themselves and any assistants the group brought with them, who heard their new album, so I got a first hand chance to see how fans would react to the new music. They loved it. The album wouldn’t be released for another two weeks, and if it was as if these were the Mudhoney classics. Arm, Lukin, Turner, and drummer Dan Peters were just in sync with each other and even though Arm may have had issues with the city, it didn’t look like it. Wait, I take that back. In their set, he did notice I was on stage and he looked at me as if to say “who in the fuck are you?” After their first set, they went outside for a quick drink, and it was then I decided to move onto the floor towards the right, and take a few picks of Lukin. They did a few of their classics, including “Touch Me I’m Sick”, and everyone went crazy. Then it was over. It was incredibly hot in there like a sauna, and fortunately by the time they finished, it was around 12:15/12:30am. Everyone was outside celebrating what they had just heard, people getting some smokes, drinking, etc. I went across the street to a closed gas station to get a Coke from the soda machine. I then started hearing discussions about how the cops were called. DNC, a local band, were now responsible for closing the show, and it was on this night that they brought an inflatable Black Label beer blow-up as a prop. As much as I wanted to witness this, I knew that if cops were called, DNC were not going to finish their show. I heard them play, and at that point I called for a ride home. As my transportation came to pick me up, I heard and saw DNC play, and then the cops came into the vicinity. When that happened, my transportation came to pick me up, and that section of Kennewick had people scattering into cars, heading to places unknown.

    But I got to witness Mudhoney in what is still one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had. I kept playing my Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge advance tape, eventually got the album on vinyl, and it remains my favorite Mudhoney album to this day. In the Seattle air was the knowledge that Nirvana were in L.A. to record their major label debut. Word surfaced in the winter of 1991, but no one knew what was to come of this. Would it mean more attention for the rest of Seattle’s music scene? Will Mudhoney eventually get on a major label? In time Mudhoney would be signed to Reprise Records, and the band celebrated this in The Rocket with a parody of Nirvana’s Nevermind cover, with each of them in a pool swimming towards their major label hook. It was genuine, it was real, it was true Mudhoney. The band didn’t blow up in the same way Nirvana, Pearl Jam, or Alice In Chains did, but for a short time it got their music on various TV shows and movies. The group eventually returned to Sub Pop, where they would continue to record and tour. For Mudhoney, it’s fortunate that biting a chunk of major label nuts did not weaken them in anyway, and pretty much everything they’ve recorded since Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge has been nothing short of amazing. For me, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge remains a statement of a band ready to climb in the name of good rock’n’roll. If not for the fans, very much for themselves, as if the world remained a dank, piss-smelling basement for all to smell and enjoy.

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    FROM THE BOX: The Rocket” issue #84 (October 1986)

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    The Rocket was a Seattle paper that was my introducing to the Seattle music scene when I moved from Honolulu in 1984. I happened to live 200 miles east of Seattle, which made things difficult to fully enjoy the music until I was “of age”. But there were records with such labels as Green Monkey and Popllama. Because of the fact that I couldn’t get my shit together after high school, I remained in the Dry Shitties (a/k/a Tri-Cities). However, between 1990-1994, I made a number of visits to Seattle, which included a visit to Sub Pop HQ. It looked like a bedroom, with vinyl and boxes everywhere, a huge Bruce Lee movie poster, Kim Warnick of the Fastbacks handling phone calls, the guys from Seaweed handling press for their then-new album. Now, I had made a call to Sub Pop publicist Jenny Boddy and said I wanted to visit. She told me “I could not visit unless I came with a bribe.” I said what kind, she told me “chocolate”. I went to Uwajimaya and bought a box of Hawaiian Host chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I visited Sub Pop, and she was not there. Or maybe she was, and thought I was a freak. I simply wanted to visit the label, do some record label stuff (i.e. possible freebies), and that was that. I did see Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman there, which for me was like seeing Ahmet Ertegun. Well, maybe not in a celebratory way, but to know that I was in the “house” of the people whom I had seen that day. I ended up leaving with nothing, only exhaustion from finding the label (if you ever visited, you’ll know why). I also ended up eating the entire box of chocolate covered macadamia nuts.

  • As a young writer at the time, I wanted to be a part of the Seattle music scene, but hard to do when I was in another city. I did end up writing for The Rocket for about two years, so it was the closest I came to doing that. However, what I loved about the people involved in the scene, including bands, managers, and publicists, was that it was very close knit. They all showed support for one another, and I was surprised that they showed support for me, as a supporter. When some of these bands from Seattle, Tacoma,and Olympia came into town, I’d go to all of the shows, take photos, and talk story a bit. They were happy for the reviews I did, even if it was just “a review”.
  • One review in The Rocket that changed my life was one that was in the October 1986 issue, which I just discovered in a box I’ve had in storage. I now know that I’ve been officially a Melvins fan for 24 years this month. Inside, Bruce Pavitt’s great Sub Pop column, which marked the release of the SUB POP 100 album. First record reviewed in the column was the “Together We’ll Never”/”Ain’t Nothin’ To do” 7″ from Green River, for a whopping $2.
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    I sent it to the address listed, and in a week received a package from a guy named Mark Arm. In his letter, he told me that he included another record for free, a cool band called Melvins. It was the 6-song 7″ EP on C/Z. While I grew up with the slow dirge of Black Sasbbath, Melvins felt like “my music”, even though at the time I had no idea who their influences were. It changed my life forever. I ended up interviewing King Buzzo twice, once in 1987 for the high school radio station I was with, and in their Atlantic days. At the end of the second interview, he goes “you’re John Book? The same guy who interviewed us in high school?”

  • Oddly enough, I have yet to see them live. A disgrace, I know, but when I’ve had opportunities to see them, I was either on vacation or simply unable to make the journey. A true Melvins fan is probably saying “but those fuckers tour all the time, how could you miss them?”.
  • Also in the same issue of The Rocket, this review of the first Full Force album by Glen Boyd:
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    Good times.